After watching elections for 30+ years, and participating in elections for 16 years, I’ve learned that electoral remorse is one of the biggest barriers to political participation. When people feel like their politicians have failed them, they stop participating in the process. I read and hear a lot of people complaining that all politicians are crooks and liars, “both sides” are [evil/bad/dumb/criminal/etc.], and government fails the American people. But what I don’t hear are people saying, “I called my Congressmember to complain that he was doing a shitty job.” People have kind of given up on the political process in America (and our lousy voter turnout is evidence of that).
Since Super Tuesday, I’ve been engaged in several discussions recently on Facebook surrounding the election. Many are with people who believe that Trump was elected and therefore he is our leader and can do whatever he wants, while others rail against this asshole who is “Not [their] president,” others want to wait and see and hope everything blows over, and still others warn against Neo-Nazi’s, White Nationalists, and other problematic persons being packed into the White House and Cabinet who will put all the gays, Muslims, feminists, and immigrants into death camps. At the very core of it, most of the people I talk to have some level of “buyer’s remorse” with the election (or electoral remorse, I suppose), though the staunch conservatives I know have jumped on the Trump Train and can’t wait for January 20 so they can “Make America Great Again” (or take back their country, whatever their current slogan is).
Here’s my take: people were frustrated with their lack of progress over the past 8 years, they felt left behind by both parties, and rather than seeing Trump as someone who would burn it all down so they could start over, they saw him as someone coming in from the outside to bring needed change. Now that he’s been elected, I’m seeing more of the same: Cabinet picks are made from people who supported Trump either during the election or in his business ventures, billionaires and lobbyists and Washington insiders. All this after running on a campaign of “draining the swamp” and changing Washington politics. While I will grudgingly agree with some of his policies, I’m still confused at how his transition is at all draining the swamp or bringing in outsiders or, well, doing anything other than politics as usual. But then, I’m not easily excited by politicians. In my lifetime, I’ve watched promise after promise be broken, changed, or “renegotiated” to fit a re-election agenda, leading to voter frustration and resentment.
The main problem with Trump’s cabinet picks, as with most presidents’, is that they’re made of friends and allies, yes-men who will support everything the president wants to do. What the president needs is a team of advisors who will challenge him when he proposes a terrible idea, give honest feedback (including criticism where warranted), and help him manage expectations. Trump ran on a campaign of big promises (“I alone…”), and in the days since the election has either overtly or implicitly indicated that he won’t follow up on several of them, or at the very least will only enact a small portion of the promise (the border wall may just end up being a fence, and he may not actually start deporting people, and maybe yes or no to Obamacare, but the Republican-led Congress definitely wants to kill it).
It’s true that time will tell what Trump actually manages to accomplish during his term, but what we don’t have to do is “wait and see” what his plans are because he is already telling us what he wants to do with his cabinet picks. I mean, I assume he is, because his indecipherable twitter ranting, combined with various contradictory interviews, isn’t exactly helping clarify his positions on his campaign promises or hot-button issues.
I’m not in the Camp of Doom And Gloom about the future, but neither am I in the Camp of Oh Well Guess It’s Over or Camp Let’s Wait And See And Hope It Blows Over. Elections aren’t a one-and-done deal; if you’re waiting until the next election to complain to your elected officials about the job they’re doing (or aren’t doing), you’re waiting too long. Call your Congress person, the mayor, your State rep, city council member – if they walked back a promise or decided they only cared about re-election instead of actually working on difficult issues, call and talk to their office directly. And if Trump is falling down on the job (which I suspect he will, much to the detriment of our country), call HIS office and complain. If he isn’t at his Penn. Ave. address, call Trump Tower. He might be there.
Don’t let electoral remorse kill your participation – our elected officials are all grown-ups who can and should be held accountable if they start fucking things up.